By Paul Gable
As I wrote yesterday, the death of Tom Sponseller has left more questions than answers.
I spent part of today speaking with a nationally certified crime scene investigator who spoke on conditions of anonymity. The investigator has worked on cases in three states and on military cases.
The investigator was totally unfamiliar with the Sponseller case. After explaining the details as attributed to the Richland County Coroner’s office – gunshot residue tests, firearm and ballistic results and handwriting analysis led to a conclusion of probable suicide, the following observations were elicited.
As a general rule, gunshot residue tests are not done after a period of six hours has elapsed from the time of death because the results are highly suspect by that time.
Gunshot residue tests do not test for gunpowder. They test for heavy metal residue from additives to the powder.
Additionally, such tests can be rendered inconclusive in the case of smokers since the heavy metal residues from tobacco additives are very similar to those from gunpowder residues. Tom Sponseller was a heavy smoker, according to local hospitality association members who knew him well.
Suicide victims generally want to be discovered immediately because they generally believe their suicide makes some kind of statement. It is “very unusual” for a suicide to take place in a room behind two locked doors and for a suicide note to be placed in a locked drawer.
The investigator said the failure to open a locked drawer during a search of a room is also highly questionable. “Police search 101 says you look in every nook and cranny, including popping open locked drawers if necessary, when you are conducting a search for which you have been given permission or obtained a warrant. You don’t leave anything not searched.”
The investigator said having cadaver dogs miss finding a body that had been decomposing for six or seven days was not impossible, but very unlikely.
None of the above information conclusively points to anything other than suicide, but it does beg the question of how the Richland County Coroner could point to these results as supporting a conclusion of suicide? And what of the dogs, hidden body and note? What conclusion do they support?